If you live in the western parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico, chances are Disneyland Resort is your main Disney Parks destination in the U.S. Our Disneyland fan's guide to visiting Disney World will toadally help you transition to the very different Disney World Resort.
If you live locally or have had a Disneyland annual pass (now called Magic Key), you're probably a fellow theme park expert who uses all of the tips and tricks we frogs recommend to skip the lines and avoid the crowds. However, if you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World Resort (or it’s your first trip in a really long time), you definitely need to do your research because there are some major differences in planning a vacation at the two resorts. (That’s why you are reading this blog, right?!) Disney World is HUGE compared to Disneyland, and if you do not plan ahead you may miss out on rides, dining and character experiences. Never fear, Disneyland fans, we've put together the key things you need to know before you visit Disney World!
Hop along with us as your Disney World tour guides! It's important to note that this post focuses on how things are now post COVID-19 as things have changed from before. We will point you toward the resources you'll need to plan the most magical trip to Disney World.
Disney World has gotten a little closer to Disneyland in terms of planning during the pandemic. Disney World dining reservations moved from reservations being made 180 days in advance to 60 days in advance, same as Disneyland.
What this means is that there is less advance planning to worry about, and you can approach a Disney World theme park in a similar way to a daily trip to Disneyland when it comes to rides and dining. Less advance planning is necessary than in the past, but there is still a lot you need to know. Both parks ended free FASTPASS and now have an optional paid service called Genie+ and the ability to purchase individual Lighting Lane access for a few select rides. But even these services work a little differently there.
Disney World is a much larger park with transportation to think about and more hotel choices. So let's hop to it and go over what you need to know before heading to Disney World when coming from a Disneyland perspective. Park hopping is a little different on both coasts, and all Disneyland and Disney World theme parks require a theme park reservation for the first (or only) park you want to enter each day. Hop over to our Disney World Reservation System post for more details.
Before we get started, we cannot talk about visiting Disney World through early 2023 without mentioning Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration. The party kicked off Oct. 1, 2021 and lasts for 18 months. So if you visit in that time you can experience special entertainment, new rides, new dining and even more fun.
The Disneyland Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disney World — Planning
OMG! You're going to Disney World! This is so exciting! In order to achieve that hoppy family vacation you've always dreamed about, take a little time to get familiar with Disney World well before your trip. Overall, you are going to need to start planning your trip to Disney World earlier than you would a trip to Disneyland. (Although we are seeing more and more guests booking last-minute trips lately!) Disney World is a very popular vacation destination! Definitely hop over to our Disney World crowd calendar to try to choose one of the least crowded times to visit.
While it’s always smart to plan your trips to Disneyland and learn as much as you can about skipping the lines, virtual queues, and new rides and shows (BTW, we have Disney World Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disneyland for folks used to the East Coast parks), if you’ve been to Disneyland a few times, you know you can just show up and wing it and have a great time. This is not necessarily the case with Disney World. You have to do a little more prep work to gain maximum fun!
Whether you are new to Disney World or a seasoned visitor, you need to plan your visit in advance and make reservations for rides, shows and meals. There are some recent changes right now that actually make planning a Disney World vacation much easier. There are some more logistics to plan and things to learn, including new lingo. Park hopping means hopping into some kind of vehicle or transportation to get to another park (rather than the quick walk across the esplanade at Disneyland). Speaking of park hopping, guests at Disney World can hop at 2 p.m., an hour later than Disneyland. And at Disney World, you have to tap into the first park you reserved before hopping, even if you arrive after 2 p.m. Hop on over to our post on park hopping and how it works with the new Disney Park Pass reservation system.
In the past you would have planned meals at popular restaurants at least six months in advance, but for now, the booking window is 60 days! If you do not put in the time to plan, you just might miss out. But never give up hope in checking for reservations because you might be able to pick up some else's cancellation, especially a day or two before you visit when people start to cancel before they get charged. Do some research and you’ll be in good shape to make hoppy family memories.
One bonus of the Walt Disney World Resort property is experiencing the recreational fun you can have outside of the theme parks. You can rent boats and go kayaking or fishing. Disney World has several golf courses and mini golf courses. You can even go horseback riding and take archery lessons! Many hotel guests build in some time to relax and enjoy their resort during their vacation too ... and each of the resort hotels has a toadally unique theme, which extends to its decor, pool and dining options. You might want to venture off the property to take an airboat tour and maybe even spot some alligators or take about an hour's drive to go to the beach for some relaxation. We have a hopful post on things to do in Orlando outside the theme parks.
Budgeting Your Time
Plan to allow extra time to get to the parks, hop between parks and wait in lines. Food lines and ride lines are generally longer at Disney World. But the good news is that Mobile Order is an option for some quick-service restaurants at Disney World too! Also, it's important to check the park hours. While we generally enjoy those late night hours at Disneyland until midnight, sometimes the parks close earlier at Disney World. Seasonal events, including Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Disney After Hours events may lead to early park closures for non-party guests. You can check park hours and see special events on our Orlando crowd calendar. Knowing the park closure time helps in planning your day, whether you decide you'd like to attend a special event or would rather hop to another park to make the most of your time.
Keep in mind that while EPCOT may open early, World Showcase usually opens a little later (11 a.m. or so). If you're looking to hop around the world, that may be a better day to sleep in (unless you want to book your first Genie+ reservation at 7 a.m.)! Don't froget to check and see about any festivals going on during your visit too — EPCOT's festivals can really enhance your EPCOT time, and generally include limited-edition food, concerts, art and more.
Depending on the length of your vacation, you may opt to stick to one park per day at Disney World. Explore everything that park has to offer and move onto another park the next day. Park hopping requires taking transportation to another park, and that can waste valuable time if you're limited during your visit.
Prepare to Walk and Experience Weather
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort (if that’s also on your must-see list) are much larger properties than their West Coast counterparts. Even the ride exits are much longer than the Disneyland versions. The same rides may have larger footprints too! You’ll notice the castle is bigger and the hub and lands have more space to them. That also means you’ll be getting your steps in, so wear good walking shoes.
The climate will also differ from what you are used to at Disneyland. Check the weather forecast so you’ll know what to pack, but in warmer months, be prepared for heat, humidity and rain. You may not need that sweater on warms night at Disney World, whereas the temperatures drop at Disneyland as soon as the sun goes down. Rain may be a rare event at Disneyland, especially in summer. However, thunderstorms tend to be an everyday event in the summer in Orlando, but the storms move in and out very quickly and are usually in the late afternoon. Bring that umbrella and poncho, and check both the forecast and the radar to stay ahead of the rain. Did you know a company makes PonchEars? The hood allows room for your ear headbands!
Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane at Disney World
The FASTPASS systems at Disney World and Disneyland have both been retired. A new optional paid version that is similar to MaxPass launched at both locations. It's called Genie+. Even if you have used Genie+ at Disneyland, there are some major differences we will go over. Like at Disneyland, Disney World guests can select rides to use the Lightning Lane through Genie+ on the day of their visit. However, Disney World guests can get an earlier start by selecting rides before they enter the park at Disney World (at 7 a.m.) That also means that Lightning Lane reservations fill up for popular rides faster than they do at Disneyland.
All guests can start making their Genie+ selections beginning at 7 a.m. from their home, car, restaurant or hotel room. For individual Lighting Lane rides that you pay a la carte for, Disney World hotel guests have an advantage. Hotel guests can book those at 7 a.m. Other guests can start reserving when the park opens, but they do not have to be physically in the park. You'll want to note park opening times so you can get a jump on making selections.
Disney World has more options on Genie+, so you'll see rides such as Dumbo, Pirates and Jungle Cruise on Genie+ there. What's not included are PhotoPass photos. You'll have to buy those separately.
The Genie+ Lightning Lane selections occur as first available time slots, like at Disneyland. However, you can select a time to ride an individual Lightning Lane at Disney World.
You probably have a lot of questions. we probably have the answers. Hop over to our Disney World posts on Disney Genie and our Disney Genie FAQ as well as Our Top Tips and Strategies fro Using Genie+ at Disney World to learn all about Disney Genie, Genie+ and individual Lightning Lane selections at Disney World. Disney Genie, not to be confused with Genie+, is a new free planning tool in the My Disney Experience and Disneyland apps. It helps you plan your day in real time and offers suggestions for a shorter wait for a ride. You might not need it at your familiar parks, but it could be helpful when your'e in a whole new world.
At times, Disney World may utilize virtual queues for popular and new attractions. Hop over to our guide to navigating virtual queues at Walt Disney World to find out if any virtual queues are in effect for your visit and how to join them.
Getting to Know the Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks
Disneyland Resort sits on about 500 acres and has two parks that are literally steps away from one another. Downtown Disney is next to the parks, connecting them to the three on-site hotels, all within hopping distance. In comparison, Walt Disney World Resort covers about 30,000 acres, has four theme parks and two water parks and there is a great distance between them all! It really is a whole new world!
Disney Springs is the Disney World equivalent to Downtown Disney, but it is not attached to the theme parks. It’s a shopping and dining destination in itself. Disney Springs is much bigger than Downtown Disney, with four distinct "neighborhoods" to explore. Disney Springs is also home to the world's largest World of Disney store. If you're staying at one of the EPCOT area hotels, you're steps away from Disney's BoardWalk, which offers even more entertainment, dining and shopping options.
The Walt Disney World Resort property is sprawled out and you cannot generally walk from park to park. Each park is unique and offers a different experience. Don’t ask us our favorite park. We love different parts of each park and have favorite rides at each one! They are all special in their own way!
Here are the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and water parks:
- Magic Kingdom – This park is most like Disneyland Park but on a bigger scale. This park has many of the same Disneyland classic rides. However, you may find them in slightly different places and with subtle differences you fans might notice. You may be used to the approachable and quaint Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. It’s almost overwhelming to see the towering Cinderella Castle in person. Don’t miss the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, PeopleMover (it is greatly missed at Disneyland), Country Bear Jamboree (also missed by many Disneyland fans) and the Hall of Presidents, as none of these can be found at Disneyland. In normal times, catch a show in front of the castle! That's something you don't get to experience at Disneyland.
- EPCOT - It is home to World Showcase and rides such as Test Track, Soarin’ (with a different ending), Spaceship Earth and Frozen Ever After. Remy's Ratatouille Adventure opened in fall 2021. The Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is the newest coaster that opened in My 2022!
- Disney's Hollywood Studios - Home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (almost identical to Disneyland’s version), Toy Story Land, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (we miss this one from Disney California Adventure, and the Orlando version has a surprising twist!), Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (which will make its way to Toontown on the West Coast in 2023).
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom - Home to Pandora and the highly popular Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris. Check out the bioluminescence of Pandora at night and the lighting and projections on the Tree of Life. You get a zoo and theme park in one at Disney's Animal Kingdom!
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park - A snow-covered water park (seriously!), where you can take a "ski" lift to the top of the park's focal point, Mount Gushmore, for even more thrilling water attractions.
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park - A tropical lagoon (don't mind the odd shipwreck or debris left over from the typhoon that rolled through) that's home to the Crush 'n' Gusher tube slide, as well as lazy rivers and other water attractions. In the summer, Typhoon Lagoon also hosts H2O Glow Nights, an after-hours party featuring Toy Story pals and exclusive food and drink options.
If you want to take a closer look at what attractions are unique to each park and others that may be similar to Disneyland Resort attractions, hop over to our post on Disney World versus Disneyland. No, it's not a contest. Both resorts are special in our hearts. We find it helps to call out any unique attractions so guests do not miss out on what makes each park special.
Walt Disney World Resort Ticket Options
One difference between Disneyland and Disney World are the ticketing options. (Note: some of these options have changed since the resort reopened, and no matter your ticket, you'll need a park pass through the Disney World reservation system to visit.) You may be familiar with Base tickets, which allow you to visit one park a day, or Park Hopper tickets, which allow you to visit more than one park each day. You can no longer purchase tickets preloaded Genie+, but you can purchase in the app beginning at 12 a.m. for the day you wish to use the service. Walt Disney World Resort offers Park Hopper Plus tickets, which allow you to hop to the parks AND the water parks (plus some other extras, including ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, two mini-golf locations and Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course). Take a look at all of the ticket options available to you to see which best meets your family's needs and interests.
Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Options
There are a lot of free transportation options for getting around Disney World. The choices vary based on where you are and are trying to go. Reach for the sky with the new Disney Skyliner Transporation System. It looks like a ski resort gondola, but with adorable Disney characters from both movies and attractions decorating the cabins. The Skyliner connects hotels such as Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
The monorail lines access the Transportation and Ticket Center, EPCOT, Magic Kingdom and hotels such as the Polynesian, Contemporary and Grand Floridian Resorts.
By water, you can take ferries or water taxis to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs and certain hotels, including Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.
Disney Skyliner, monorail, ferries, water taxis and buses are all toadally free to take around property. Here's the scoop on complimentary transportation available at each theme park:
Ground transportation choices include buses, which are available at every theme park and resort hotel. If want to get to your destination faster, you can always use Lyft or Uber. You can order Minnie Van service connected by Lyft (this service is back in summer 2022!) to get a Minnie-themed ride for up to six passengers. All ride share options are a separate, paid option. The Minnie Vans are actually owned and operated by Disney World, which means you'll have a cast member to chauffeur you. No matter which Disney transportation mode you use, tadpoles can snag a free, collectible transportation card — see if you can collect them all! Ask a cast member for one, and remember that each type of boat has its own card ;)
If you drive to the theme parks with your own car or a rental, it will cost $25 per day for parking. You do not have to pay again if you park hop and drive to a different theme park on that same day. Disney hotel guests do not need to pay again to park at theme parks. Just remember to budget time to park, get to the park and go through security again when park hopping.
Are you staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel? If you aren’t doing much exploring outside the resort area, you do not need to rent a car. Hop over to our post on Orlando transportation to get the full scoop on your options for getting around Orlando. From Orlando International Airport (MCO), you can hop on a paid shuttle (such as the Sunshine Flyer motor coach service or Mears Connect) to and from the hotels! Going carless to Disney World can be a great way to save money. Rent for the day if you want to explore other areas, or take a Lyft or Uber to other destinations.
MagicBands and My Disney Experience
One of the biggest changes for a Disneyland fan visiting Disney World is the use of MagicBands and My Disney Experience! (But not for long as they are coming to Disneyland in 2022.) MagicBands are rubber bracelets with RFID technology. Many of the uses of a MagicBand are also available on your mobile phone.
Among MagicBands' many uses are scanning in at the Lightning Lane entrance (so much faster than pulling out the phone). There, you could make your reservations via the My Disney Experience app (or online or at a kiosk). Scanning in is much easier at Disney World. MagicBands are not necessary (you can scan a park ticket or code in the app instead), but they do make life much easier.
MagicBands are so much more than ride reservation keepers though. The bands are your ticket to enter the park. If you are staying at a Disney property, they can be used as a room key. You can set them up with a credit card to use in place of money in the parks and on the hotel properties. You scan it to collect your on-ride photos or PhotoPass and character photos.
MagicBands can be used to simplify your day and keep you from going into your wallets and pockets. You can purchase them on your own in advance. But if you stay on-site, they do make life easier. When you enter a park, that MagicBand is tied to you until the battery gives out. In the past, if you stayed on-site, these bands used to come personalized with your name and a color of your choosing for free. But as of Jan. 1, 2021, guests no longer receive complimentary MagicBands with their resort hotel stays. Disney hotel guests may purchase MagicBands for $5 and up. You'll also see kiosks all around the property (including Disney Springs) for themed MagicBands.
Guests are able to use the My Disney Experience app to do the things they have been doing with MagicBands. If you want the ease of being hands free, MagicBands are still an option.
Much like the Disneyland app, My Disney Experience is a Disney World guest's one-stop-shop — it's where you'll make your Disney Park Pass reservations, dining reservations and view restaurant menus. It's where you'll check-in for dining reservations, and where you can check for walk-up availability. It's where you'll mobile order, and where you can view park hours and park hopping availability. You can even see a map and directions, or filter for things like Guest Relations, PhotoPass stops, restrooms and more. My Disney Experience is also where you'll view or link to your photos and use the new Genie planning feature. Download the latest version before you hit the parks!
How to Choose a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel
Now that you know a little bit about MagicBands and the advantages of staying on Disney World property, that may help you decide whether to stay on property or elsewhere. Disney World is about a 20-minute ride from Universal Orlando Resort and other Orlando hotels if you decide to stay off property.
Advantages to staying at a Disney World hotel include:
- Early Theme Park Entry (Hotel guests can enter ANY theme park up to 30 minutes early EVERY day.)
- Discount MagicBands ($5 and up)
- Advance Dining Reservations 60 days in advance of your check-in day, for the entire length of your stay for Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests
- Being able to make individual Lightning Lane selections at 7 a.m.
Some deciding factors when choosing a hotel include budget (Psst ... get a hoppin' deal on Disney World or Orlando hotels through your favorite froggy friends at Undercover Tourist), types of transportation available or distance from your favorite parks. The type of pool and if there is a waterslide or a cool theme (Princesses? "Cars?" Tropical hideaway?) might also be factors to help you to pick the best Disney World hotel for your family. We are toadally excited to see the Incredibles-themed rooms at the Contemporary.
Planning Meals with Advance Dining Reservations
Dining reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. At Disneyland, you may have gotten used to making dining reservations up to 60 days away for those harder-to-get reservations. At Disney World, you'll want to be ready to book 60 days before your trip begins, especially for character dining experiences such as Cinderella's Royal Table. (You could reserve up to 180 days in advance of your visit pre-pandemic but currently it's 60 days).
Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests have an advantage because they can book the entire length of their stay, up to 10 days. All dining reservations can be made using the My Disney Experience app. Check Open Table for additional Disney Springs reservations. If you do miss out on securing a reservation, keep checking back for cancellations as your visit approaches. The day before is still a good time to check because people may make a last-minute decision to cancel the reservation to avoid the cancellation fee (which applies to cancellations 24 hours in advance). If you did not score a reservation, you can always see if your dining location offers walk-up availability in the My Disney Experience app.
Meeting Characters at Disney World
At Disneyland, you might generally know where to find characters during normal operations. Sometimes characters wander freely (pre-pandemic) or pop up near the park entrance. A princess might be in Fantasyland or the Royal Hall or out by the park entrance. You hop in line to get one-on-one time.
You will not find as many freely wandering characters at Disney World. At Disney World, most characters are normally a bit more hidden away or in consistent locations with formal lines. Some meet and greets are available on Genie+; you can locate them on the Tip Board or map, with their associated wait times. Depending on your priorities for the day, using Genie+ to meet a character may be worth it. Look for other opportunities to see characters such as distanced sightings and character cavalcades.
Disney World Photos
With all of those magical moments to come, let’s talk about photos. If you want to those PhotoPass on-ride photos and videos — yes, they have videos! — the process and pricing is different from Disneyland’s photo packages. Disneyland has photos included with Genie+. Disney World does not. Disney World gets augmented reality filters instead. You can purchase all of the photos for the day for a fee. Expect the Disney World fee to be more than you will pay at Disneyland. During our spring visit to Disney World, the price was $69.99. For longer stays, you can get all your vacation photos from the trip for $199.99 through Memory Maker. If you purchase up to three days in advance of your trip, you can save $30, making your total cost $169 for Memory Maker.
To collect photos throughout the day, scan your MagicBand or ticket under your ride photo (that certainly beats typing the attraction number into the app!) or from the PhotoPass photographer when getting a PhotoPass photo.
Are you excited to make your first trip to Disney World? Hopefully you've found our Disneyland fan’s guide to visiting Disney World hopful in planning and making your aware of the differences so you can have a magical trip! Remember that your froggy friends can help you save money with discount Disney World Resort tickets and hotels stays in Orlando and at Disney World.